Bringing Home the Flavors of La Boca

- April 11, 2012

"Chef James Campbell Caruso releases new book devoted to the foods of La Boca..."

La Boca is one of Santa Fe's best loved restaurants. Chef/owner James Campbell Caruso, a five-time James Beard Award nominee, showcases his passion for Spanish food with more than 30 tapas, including canelones with scallops, crab and manchego cream, bruschetta topped with mushrooms, fried eggs and truffle oil and flatiron steak with smoked sea salt caramel.

La Boca opened its doors in 2006, and instantly received national acclaim from critics, diners and food celebs such as Giada DiLaurentis, who filmed a segment of her "Giada's Weekend" at La Boca.

Now, Caruso is poised to release Espana: Exploring the Flavors of Spain (Gibbs Smith, May, 2010) a cookbook of La Boca's recipes for tapas made with meat, seafood or vegetables as well as soups, main dishes and desserts. The book also includes Caruso's guide to authentic Spanish ingredients, as well as stunning color photographs by photographer Douglas Merriam, who divides his time between Santa Fe and Maine.

"The Spanish have such an affection for their ingredients, almost like you have affection for another person," Caruso says. "They have a lot of respect for and excitement about the ingredients and that translates into all of the cooking processes. Also, they have a way of serving tapas with lots of different tastes in one sitting. Even at a family dinner. It's a different way to eat, where everyone shares the plates, and we like that style of dining quite a bit."

So do a lot of other diners, evidently, for La Boca has been praised by The New York Times, Travel & Leisure, Esquire and the Food Network for offering Santa Fe a premier Spanish culinary experience. The International Wine and Food Society bestowed the restaurant with its Award of Excellence.

Caruso spent two years working on Espana, which he wrote himself.  "We had to modify some of the recipes for the book," he says. "A lot of the dishes are really simple. Some were a bit of a challenge to translate into the language of the home cook, but for the most part, it represents the way I cook—simple and straightforward. You don't have to pull out the octopus boning knife."

Many of the recipes also reflect the rustic dishes of Spain, including red wine and fig soup with shaves Basque sheep milk; roasted farmers market vegetables and palvarones, or almond cookies. "It's really simple food, peasant style," Caruso says.

For Caruso, the biggest challenge in writing Espana was finding the time to sit down and work on the book. "We have a lot of great recipes that I want to share with people, but it's hard to find the time to sit and write them down when you're running a restaurant," he says.

Yet working on Espana allowed Caruso to revisit some of the tapas he first served when la Boca opened. "It made us appreciate some of the older dishes that maybe aren't on the menu anymore," he says. "It made us revisit those, and some of them came back on the menu."

Caruso had so much material for Espana that he ultimately had to omit recipes. "There's a lot that I just couldn't fit, so I'm working on another book," he says.

He's planning some events for the May 1 book launch, which he'll announce on his website. Gourmet Girl will also keep you informed about his booksignings. In the meantime, a Cookbook Sweepstakes offers a chance to win a catered dinner for 20, a $250 gift card to La Boca and other great prizes. For details, visit

Recipes from chef James Campbell Caruso's upcoming cookbook, España: Exploring the Flavors of Spain (Gibbs Smith, 2012)

"Searing little squids on hot iron gives them a more pronounced flavor than frying them," Caruso says. "Paint your plate black and red using squid ink and piquillo pepper sauce."

2 pounds baby squid with tentacles
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons sea salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 piquillo peppers
2 tablespoons squid ink

Toss the squid with olive oil, salt, lemon juice and garlic. Marinate for 30 minutes.
Heat a cast-iron skillet or flat plancha grill to high heat. Purée the peppers well in a blender. (This purée will be used as one of the sauces.)
Grill the squid for about two minutes per side. Remove from heat and divide onto six small plates. Drizzle a small amount of squid ink and red pepper purée on each plate.

Arugula with Ham, Grilled Artichokes and Aged Sherry Vinegar Reduction.

2 cups aged sherry vinegar
6 artichokes, medium sized
4 cups fresh arugula
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cracked black pepper
6 slices of jamón Serrano

In a small sauce pan on high heat, reduce the sherry vinegar down to about 1/4 cup. Set aside to cool.
Grill the artichokes.
Toss the arugula with olive oil, salt and pepper.
Prepare six chilled salad plates. Lay a slice of jamón Serrano on each plate. Divide dressed arugula on top of the jamón. Place a grilled artichoke on top of each bed of arugula. Drizzle all plates with a teaspoon of reduced sherry vinegar.

Colorful roasted vegetable dish.

2 red peppers
1 green pepper (Anaheim or poblano)
1 medium eggplant
1 zucchini
2 small red onions
4 Roma tomatoes
6 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Salt and ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
Toss all ingredients together in a large bowl and then transfer to a baking sheet. Roast for about 30 minutes until everything is well cooked. Allow to cool.
Peel the eggplant and peppers. Cut vegetables into two-inch strips and arrange in colorful pattern on four small plates.
Drizzle with a little more olive oil and serve at room temperature.